Tomorrow (Feb 10) is Phthalate Phreedom Day. The United States Congress has passed a law, and the Consumer Product Safety Commission will begin enforcing a ban on Phthalates in plastics sold to children. As we don't carry many of the types of products that would be subject to this ban, and the few we do carry were in compliance long ago, this doesn't affect the Golden Apple directly. We choose our products carefully, and combined with a little parental common sense, we're confident shopping at our store is far safer than driving a car, or stepping off the curb, or breathing car exhaust.
The Golden Apple is an educational store, and education is the enemy of fear! Keeping kids safe from exposure to harmful items in their toys is serious stuff, and we do take it seriously. But I came across this information today from a study of how people access risk based on scary words like phthalates:
What would you think if I told you that the food you have in your cupboard contains either the preservative Hnegripitrom or Magnalroxate, and that one of these was dangerous? Unless you are a chemist, the answer reveals a lot about how your brain makes decisions when you don’t have a clue about the details. The fictional food additives are from a recent set of experiments where researchers presented their names to people and asked them to rate how dangerous they thought they were on a scale of 1 to 7. If you’re like most people with an English speaking background then you rated Hnegripitrom as more dangerous than Magnalroxate.
But if you are like most people then you don’t have an advanced degree in organic chemistry, so what are you basing your judgment on?
The researchers had a clue and designed this experiment to test one simple thing: The link between ease of pronunciation and how our brain judges risk.
They demonstrated that we tend to rate things that are hard to pronounce as more risky than things that are easy to pronounce. In this case the easier to pronounce chemical seemed less dangerous than the harder to pronounce one. At first glance this sounds rather silly, but a great example of this in the real world is a drug you have almost certainly taken before: N-acetyl-p-aminophenol.
Phthalates is a pretty scary word.
The whole issue of risk assessment is an interesting topic to me, and I will be writing more about it in future posts. Meanwhile, be safe, and watch out for cars!